HILTON HEAD, S.C.—The tire recall system has failed for 40 years, and a machine-readable tire identification number would go a long way toward making it a success.
This was the message of Sean Kane, founder and president of Safety Research & Strategies Inc. and The Safety Institute, at the 32nd Clemson University Global Tire Industry Conference, held April 13-15 in Hilton Head.
“I'm not here to advocate a new system,” Kane said. “I'm here to argue for a system.”
Arguing for a strong tire recall system is not the same as arguing that tires are a faulty product, according to Kane.
“Today's tires provide consumers with excellent performance and value,” he said. “These highly engineered products are often undervalued by customers. But they are also undervalued by manufacturers.
“What other product has so much impact on consumer safety and lacks individual, machine-readable traceability from production to end of life?” he said.
A machine-readable TIN would offer enormous benefits in case of a recall, according to Kane. A machine-readable TIN would:
• Improve recall recovery and registration;
• Make tire service life recommendations easy to find and manage; and
• Improve post-market performance data collection.
Machine-readable TINS easily could be achieved through various available and cost-effective technologies, including laser-etched QR codes, optical character recognition, and radio frequency identification, according to Kane.
Currently, tire dealers and technicians have no way to check tires for recalls, Kane said. Consumers also can't check for recalls, and manufacturers have put few resources into improving this situation, he said.
The FACT Act contains provisions for improving tire registration, but tire registration alone does not equate to tire recall recovery, according to Kane.
“You've got to get tires off of vehicles, and you've got to notify consumers,” he said. But current efforts to improve tire registration are based on manual registration and an inefficient notification system dating from the 1970s, he said.
That system is not only inefficient but unfair to tire dealers, who bear a disproportionate burden in recording tire information, Kane said.
“Dealers didn't make the tires—manufacturers did,” he said. The mandatory registration system depends on the accurate manual translation of alpha-numeric characters, which is prone to error especially when tire dealers and their technicians have so many other duties, he said.
“Can you expect an 18-year-old technician to record the information in a high-pressure environment?” Kane said.
Another issue unaddressed by tire registration is service life, according to Kane, a longtime advocate of tire age regulations.
“Service life recommendations have continued, and now they are in virtually every auto service manual,” he said.
Many tire makers—including Bridgestone Americas, Continental Tire the Americas and Michelin North America Inc.—also have issued service life recommendations, Kane said. But all these recommendations—as noted by the National Transportation Safety Board—are inconsistent and confusing, sometimes leading consumers to make inappropriate tire replacement choices.
“Even when the recommendations and warnings are known, finding and decoding a TIN for the date code is counterintuitive,” Kane said. Compounding the problem is that a 10- or even 20-year-old tire can look brand-new, despite the degradation that certainly has taken place, he said.
“If you have an old tire that looks perfectly serviceable, you're not going to get rid of it,” he said. “Used tires are big business, and if a scrapped vehicle has a whole spare tire, it's going back into service.”
This has resulted in countless tragedies on U.S. roads, according to Kane. He told two stories of drivers innocently putting nearly unused but aged tires on their vehicles. Both tires suffered tread separations, causing rollovers, he said. In one case, the driver was killed and his passenger injured; in the other, the driver was rendered paraplegic.
“That didn't just cost the driver,” he said of the second accident. “That costs society.”
Kane said he agreed with the Rubber Manufacturers Association that tires are not milk. But there are plenty of examples of product traceability in other industries that are pertinent to tires, he said.
“In 2013, the FDA released a final rule establishing a unique device identification system designed to identify devices through distribution and use,” he said.
“Each UDI must be provided in a plain-text version and use automatic identification and data capture technology.”
This FDA system, which began in September 2014 and will be phased in through 2020, will offer a range of benefits to all stakeholders, he said. These include:
• Proper application and reduction of errors;
• Enhancing analysis through more robust post-market surveillance;
• Efficient recall management; and
• A more secure distribution chain, including an effective way to address product counterfeiting.
“Without the ability to scan a tire, there is no efficient way for service professionals or consumers to determine if a specific tire is recalled or should be replaced based on service life recommendations,” Kane said.
“There's not a better product out there than tires,” he said. “It's up to you to show you care enough about it.”